History of Tab

The Tab Creation Story


Tabernacle Presbyterian Church was founded on September 23, 1851 as “Third” Presbyterian Church for the “advancement of Christianity.”  We began with 22 charter members, two of whom later became mayors of Indianapolis.  Third Pres was located on the corner of Ohio and Illinois in downtown Indianapolis, the city had been founded just 30 years earlier in 1820.   By 1920 there were 16 Presbyterian Churches and 3 United Presbyterian Churches in the city.

A Change in Name

In July of 1883 Third Presbyterian Church was reorganized and renamed Tabernacle Presbyterian Church.  The tabernacle movement was a strategy to reach and welcome unchurched people in urban areas through a less formal approach to worship as a means to make church more appealing and by eliminating the pew rental system.  This was an international movement led by Charles Spurgeon at Metropolitan Tabernacle in London; Charles Finney at Broadway Tabernacle in NYC.  The catalyst for the renaming of Third Church was the calling of a new pastor who insisted that the name be changed or he wouldn’t accept the call.  The name was changed from Third to Tabernacle. The pastor declined the call, but the name stuck.

The Call to 34th and Central

In 1886 Tabernacle Presbyterian Church moved to the corner of 11th and Meridian.  Then, sensing that there were too many churches in that small section of the city, we moved again to our third and current site at the corner of 34th and Central in 1921.  The impetus for the move was to address the need for Christian education programs for the children in the Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood.  In 1919 there 100 children enrolled in our Christian education program, by 1921 there were 1000 children enrolled.

In 1924 the Tab Recreation program was established with a gift of $50 to help meet the recreational and athletic needs of the children in our church and community.  We were one of the first churches in the country to establish a recreation program as part of our outreach and ministry.  In 1961 we integrated the program in the midst of racial division, well prior to civil rights legislation.  To date there are over 100,000 alumni of Tab Rec and this program is still well recognized throughout the city.

By 1940 Tab was one of the largest churches in the country with over 3,000 members.  We were founded with a heart for community ministries but have also supported international ministries since the early 1900’s.

The Decision to Stay and Serve the Community

In 1965 a decision was made which cast the focus and future of Tab.  A twelve member Metropolitan Community Program Committee made the recommendation that Tab remain at our current location.  With full recognition of the changes in the neighborhood, increasing racial tension and violence, the migration of our members as well as many other churches and businesses to the suburbs, the increase in the average age of our members and the decline in the levels of participation, we made the counter-cultural, counter-intuitive decision to stay in order to be “a force for Christ in the heart of the city.”

Despite the challenges which faced us Tab remained a strong and vibrant congregation under good pastoral leadership and committed and competent lay and staff leaders.  However, the decades beginning in 1990 brought a revolving door of pastors and a severe decline in membership.  Between 1990 and 2007 there were 8 Senior Pastors and Interims.  Despite the challenges and controversies around and within Tab during that time some very significant ministries were birthed including the establishment of the Raphael Health Center, the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, the Unleavened Bread Café, the Open Door Ministry, and the Oaks Academy.

In 2009 our session recommitted itself to continued ministry in this place by adopting a new mission statement: “Tabernacle Presbyterian Church is called by God, led by faith in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the Kingdom of God through worship, discipleship and outreach. Honoring our heritage at 34th and Central, we will faithfully serve our community, city and world in the present and prepare expectantly for the future.”

A “Two-legged Gospel”

Tabernacle Presbyterian Church has always been committed to a “two- legged Gospel” a balance of evangelical witness from the pulpit and social involvement in the community.  Either one without other is insufficient in living out whole Gospel.  This was modeled in Jesus’ ministry, in His preaching/teaching, as well as His healing/feeding, His care for the body as well as the soul.

The word “tabernacle” means “the dwelling place of God among His people.”  It is our prayer that this is what we are in the present and will continue to be in the future, even as we have been in the past.

— Rev. L. John Gable